In reporting that John Malkovich is “in talks” to costar in Joel and Ethan Coen‘s Burn Ater Reading, a half-serious, half-doofusy dark comedy set to begin shooting in August with Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Frances McDormand playing major roles, the Hollywood Reporter wrote that the Coens’ screenplay “is being kept under wraps” and that “it is unclear what Pitt’s character will be.”
Brad Pitt, Ethan and Joel Coen, John Malkovich
I can clear that mystery up since I finished the script this morning. Pitt is playing a dumb health freak and workout trainer (i.e., dumb in the way that William H. Macy‘s character was on the not-fully-comprehending side in Fargo). The trainer is called Chad Feldheimer, and is described in the Coen script as “fortyish and well-muscled.”
The story kicks into gear when Chad partners with a fellow gym worker — a neurotic 40ish woman named Linda who’s looking for a way to afford some heavy-duty plastic surgery in order to improve her love life — in trying to shake down an embittered CIA employee named Osbourne Cox (Malkovich) who’s written a CIA tell-all that contains lots of sensitive hot-button material. Cox has lost the disc, though, and Chad has found it at the gym he and Linda work at.
I don’t know who’s playing Linda, by the way, but it’s not McDormand. It’s a splendid part. Whoever gets it is going to have something she can point to with pride for decades to come. I would offer it to someone a bit older but pretty — Julianne Moore. Someone who doesn’t need plastic surgery as much as a four-day weekend at an ashram.
The script isn’t all that secretive because I was sent a copy a few days ago, and if guys like me are reading it you can bet a lot of others are also.
I love Burn After Reading. It’s about hubris, stupidity, ineptitude, unbridled egotism — all traits that the Coens have worked with before to delicious and splendid effect. It’s arch and sardonic and inflected with that wonderfully dark Coen attitude and some really first-rate character-embroidery (a la Fargo and Barton Fink), and yet it’s sometimes laugh-out-loud funny in the vein of The Big Lebowski and Intolerable Cruelty.
If they do it right (I’m particularly jazzed by the idea of Emmanuel Lubezski doing the hand-held photography), this may well turn out to be, for the Coens, an uncommon mainstream hit. It reads, in fact, like one of those once-in-a-blue-moon Coen sweet-spot movies, and I say that as someone who wasn’t at all delighted with The Ladykillers or The Man Who Wasn’t There, was “comme ci comme ca” with O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Miller’s Crossing, and who still finds it difficult to watch Raising Arizona without getting irritated.